I saw a sentence on the internet containing this phrase

she has like 10 cars

But I cannot understand the meaning of 'like 10 cars'. I think 'she has 10 cars.' is enough instead of 'she has like 10 cars'. Why did the writer put the word 'like' here?

girl stood next to cars with caption related to question

  • 2
    Consider definition #16 at dictionary.com/browse/like . The meaning here is "approximately", as the speaker doesn't know the exact number of cars. "Like" is used in this way to mean that this is true, but not precise. For example, "He got like, a hundred texts from that girl while we were at lunch." might mean he got an excessive number of texts, rather than any specific number.
    – user11628
    Jun 9, 2017 at 0:34
  • 1
    To add to what @Mike says, "like" can also be used to express a certain amount of indifference to or even disdain for accuracy..
    – Robusto
    Jun 9, 2017 at 1:04
  • There's an interesting Q&A here. I'm surprised that I can't find a thorough treatment of this like by the likes of StoneyB or FF on the subject, though. Maybe my search was flawed. Jun 9, 2017 at 5:06
  • I agree with what Mike Kozar said. This usage is extremely informal. In a neutral register, one might say "She has something like ten cars" to mean the same thing.
    – user49640
    Jun 9, 2017 at 7:39
  • @P.E.Dant: IIRC, there was a masterful treatment of like by StoneyB, like a few months ago. But time flies. It could be two years ago.
    – TimR
    Jun 9, 2017 at 10:12

2 Answers 2


This like is a colloquial discourse marker: it's sometimes just a filler while the speaker gathers his thoughts but more often it signals that the immediately following word or phrase is particularly important or remarkable. It may also imply that the following word or phrase is approximate or exaggerated for rhetorical effect.

Kylie is 19 and owns a lot—maybe ten!—cars . . . while I'm happy just to have ten dollars!

  • 1
    StoneyB, you are like, totally correct! :)
    – Andrew
    Jun 9, 2017 at 5:40
  • But what fascinates me is why the word like has evolved to play this role. Given how frequently we and new learners hear the word, I should think the phenomenon warrants more attention. Jun 9, 2017 at 5:49
  • @P.E.Dant commonly, I will count the number of times people use this - it can easily be 3 or 4 per sentence. In the UK I would associate it especially with speakers from Essex (who I encounter disproportionately often)
    – Tim
    Jun 9, 2017 at 6:57
  • I would say that when used in this sense I've usually seen it surrounded by commas before and after. I think it emulates, like, the stereotypical valley girl speech, where, like, every other word seems to be like and consequently makes, like, a lot of pauses in speech for, like, no good reason, or whatever. Jun 9, 2017 at 7:41

Like X means "not X but something that resembles X."

This is often used in mid-sentence to emphasize that X is an exaggeration or guess.

It can also be used if the speaker (and hopefully not writer) doesn't know exactly what words to select for something but instead uses words that come to mind immediately or that he/she thinks you would prefer.

I was talking to that like Dracula guy over there, that one that looks like he's a vampire or whatever.

These uses can combine and sometimes be used to express politeness in a weird way.

You are like the best dressed person I've ever seen in my life.

So I went to court and I told the judge, "I like, totally respect you and stuff." (Probably would still go to jail.)

I think this movie is responsible for causing this to become common.

  • 2
    The California dialect is much older than Clueless, having been satirized as far back as 1982 with "Valley Girl". As a southern California native I am, like, totally guilty of using this dialect.
    – Andrew
    Jun 9, 2017 at 5:39
  • 1
    The use had already expanded beyond the jazz scene in the late 1950s--it was common in the speech of my contemporaries, and hit the mass media in Kookie Kookson's dialog (77 Sunset Strip, 1958-64) and Maynard G. Krebs' (The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, 1959-63). Jun 9, 2017 at 9:55
  • I was using like exactly is in the question as long ago as 1963. It's not regional or generational. I recommend Del Close and John Brent's How to speak hip to those with an interest in the subject. Jun 9, 2017 at 17:54

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